Garda in disarray

The 'gradual erosion of discipline' within the Garda 'will, sooner or later, lead to disaster' – Morris Tribunal Report

Nine months after the publication of the Morris Tribunal report on the explosives module, the Dáil has yet to debate the report. Even in the context of the Garda Síochána Bill, which is currently going through the Oireachtas, little attention has been paid to the findings and recommendations of the report, even though it conveys a sense of a police force in disarray.

Towards the end of the report (in paragraph 13.101) it expresses alarm about the state of the police force. It states: "Regrettably, the Tribunal has sat through a year of evidence and read thousands of documents and, as a result, has come to the conclusion that An Garda Síochána is losing its character as a disciplined force." In the next paragraph it states: "Ultimately, the gradual erosion of discipline within An Garda Síochána is a developing situation that will, sooner or later, lead to disaster."

The Tribunal uncovered corruption on the part of two gardaí in the Donegal division but found many more officers, including two chief superintendents, guilty of "gross negligence" and "gross incompetence". And it went on to remark: "The Tribunal notes the unimpressive performance by members of An Garda Síochána of Superintendent and Chief Superintendent rank during the relevant period in Co Donegal. All of these men were recruited from ranks serving both in Donegal and in other parts of the country. The Tribunal cannot come to the conclusion that the Donegal division is a 'statistical blip'. Whereas Donegal may not have been a representative sample as to serving members of An Garda Síochána of Superintendent rank and above, it is also equally possible that it may have been."

Throughout the report, the Tribunal avoids explicit criticism of the Garda Commissioner and of Garda Headquarters, and says on a number of occasions that it is not being critical of the key intelligence and security division, Crime and Security. But in reality the report is a devastating critique of the overall management of the force and, in particular of Crime and Security, which for some of the relevant time was headed by the present Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, Noel Conroy – he was head of Crime and Security from 11 February, 1992 to 3 June, 1994, the period during which a great deal of the corruption, gross negligence and gross incompetence, of which the Tribunal complained, took place.

The following are some of the critiques offered:

"The Tribunal is of the view that the direction of Crime & Security was not such as to inspire confidence in the Tribunal. The physical location of the section involves cramped working conditions. The section appears to be under resourced in terms of the staffing of the section with officers of the highest ability. With the growth of modern threats of terrorism, what has proved to be inadequate in the past, in the context of the matter under investigation by this Tribunal, will not pass muster under changed and even more dangerous conditions" (paragraph 3.37).

Commenting of the failure to review the value of Adrienne McGlinchey as a informer on the activities of the Provisional IRA, it says any such review would have led to a decision to dispense with her services. It says this represented a serious failure on the part of the senior gardaí in Donegal at the time but adds: "Garda Headquarters ought to have insisted on the general and nationwide implementation of a review of informers policy on a thought-through basis. This ought to have been supported by proper directions issued in the form of a manual" (paragraph 499 (n)).

The report is also very critical of the failure of Garda headquarters to follow through on the alleged massive find of explosives at Rossnowlagh on 18 July, 1994 (this was a month after the present Commissioner ceased to have responsibility for Crime and Security). The finds were such as to prompt a letter of congratulations from the Minister with responsibility for Security at the Northern Ireland office, the Rt Hon sir John Wheeler MP, to the then Minister for Justice, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn on 19 July, 1994. It offered his "congratulations" to the gardaí on "their excellent find of explosives, bomb-making equipment and ammunition". Mr Wheeler wrote: "Invaluable counter-terrorist work such as this will maintain relentless pressure on terrorist gangs." This letter of congratulations was passed on to Garda headquarters and communicated to the gardaí in Donegal. The finds also got massive coverage in the media, notably on RTÉ television news.

The finds were bogus. The material was planted by Superintendent Kevin Lennon and Detective Garda Noel McMahon.

The Tribunal found that Crime and Security, although informed of this massive "find" made no queries about the further investigation concerning his. It stated: "Apart from the sending of this message (to an Assistant Garda Commissioner), no further action appears to have been taken in response to it by Crime & Security in Dublin whether by raising a query or otherwise" (paragraph 9.47).

The Tribunal found: "Furthermore, no report was obtained from either of the Sergeants who carried out the searches (that led to the "finds"); no statements were taken from the owners of the land on which the finds were made and no file was prepared as directed by Chief Superintendent Fitzpatrick... When no file was received in Letterkenny, no action was taken by Chief Superintendent Fitzpatrick. There appears to have been no follow-up in relation to the preparation of such a file. There seems to have been a total Garda disinterest outside Ballyshannon in the further investigation of this matter or the fruits of the intelligence obtained. There was no discussion between the senior officers concerning the identities of those who were involved. Crime & Security in Dublin made no enquiries in relation to this major find, which one might have expected having regard to the letter which they had received on the 15th of July 1994. It is clear to the Tribunal that there was knowledge of these events stretching from Ballyshannon, to Letterkenny, to Crime & Security in Dublin. Apart from the self-congratulatory correspondence... there is no evidence of any further interest on the part of An Garda Síochána in these finds or what lay behind them. This is shocking" (paragraph 9.191).

One of the issues highlighted by the Tribunal was policy in relation to the handling of informers. In a devastating comment on the competence of the senior echelons of An Garda Síochána it stated: "The Tribunal was led to believe by the evidence of Assistant Commissioner Joseph Egan that this system had been reviewed, found wanting in certain respects and reformed late in the 1990s. Evidence in relation to this matter was received in closed session and a document was produced to the Tribunal which outlined changes which are said to have been made. The Tribunal also visited the offices of Crime & Security to ascertain the extent to which changes had been effected.

"The Tribunal notes this document, which has been furnished to it by way of a protocol because the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána claimed privilege over it, on the basis that disclosure would not be in the interests of public policy or national security. Having read the document, the Tribunal is absolutely satisfied that there is nothing in it, which the public should not know about. The Tribunal was astonished to hear that the document was restricted to senior members of An Garda Síochána and that there was very little knowledge of it amongst members of An Garda Síochána below the rank of Inspector.

"The Tribunal did not get the impression that there was any urgency displayed on the part of senior Garda management in the implementation of the terms of this document. Indeed, it was given the impression on its visit to Garda Headquarters and from the evidence heard from Assistant Commissioner Egan, that there was a great deal of foot dragging by senior officers, whose responsibility it was to implement this document, in doing so diligently and comprehensively. The Tribunal had a sense that implementation is mandatory but that there was very little serious intent to ensure compliance with its terms. The Tribunal is satisfied that there should be a robust review of this document and its implementation. This must be done, preferably by some officer or body outside An Garda Síochána" (paragraph 13.43).

vincent browne